Keeping pace with an artistic practice

When I’m not carving or printing, I am also a student of the practices of other artists. There are numerous resources to choose from…

•  Julia Cameron writes of the morning pages in her now iconic The Artist’s Way. •  Mason Curry relates the experiences of artists & writers in Daily Rituals : How Artists Work. Some writers say they find inspiration by sitting down every day at 8:30 to write. A good many artists relied on a daily dose of alcohol and amphetamines to bring the muse.
•  Twyla Tharp writes of her own practice in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. One of her habits is to order a cab every morning to take her to the gym. The cab ride itself is the habit.

Gingersnap thinks it is time for less carving and more food.

Truthfully, such daily habits have always eluded me. I’m not a person to sit idle, but each time I try stick to a studio schedule, within days I am foiled. Not by the catastrophic event, but by the holiday, the actively dying minivan, or the forgotten lunch and cell phone of my spouse. Little things that frankly make up the bulk of my life. I have always suspected that the artists who claim to work exclusively — five to seven days a week from 9am to 5pm — have had staff.

So what is the flexible artist to do?

Recently I’ve begun the practice of capturing small chunks of time to work, whether this be 15 minutes or two hours. Rather than throwing up my hands when my planned studio morning has been interrupted, I quickly recalibrate in my head to capture the needed time somewhere else in the day.

Armed with my trusty earbuds and a strong Pandora connection, I try to blot out the distractions, and the screaming inner critic that says “you can’t be a real artist if you don’t spend vast amounts of time creating…” and press on.

My favorite example of this talent is showcased in the documentary Who Does She Think She Is? where sculptor Janis Wunderlich, mother of five children, explains where she finds some of her time to work. After four children are at school or preschool, the youngest often falls asleep the in the family car. Janis tiptoes into her (presumably) adjacent studio and works for whatever time she has. A woman after my own heart.

Spectacular clouds and tornado warnings chase me to the basement.

And when I’m not able to create, I take pictures of the clouds with my cell phone, or indulge in my latest American Craft Magazine while I wait for the car to be repaired.

What do you do to keep yourself in the habit of making art?

Considering Righteousness and Change

My process of creation is a circuitous one. I often start with a particular visual idea — a pattern in nature that I find inexplicably captivating. I spend time thinking about composition, the types of tools I will use and the marks I want to make. I don’t spend too much time clarifying what the image means…

© Elizabeth Busey. Righteousness as a Mighty Stream.
Linoleum Reduction Print, 25 x 40in.

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More than a pothole

They say that spring is “just around the corner,” but many in my small corner of the Midwest are dubious.  Light snow and bone-chilling winds accompany us as we swerve around some pretty massive potholes. Driving into one is tough on the car’s suspension, and all I can do is grit my teeth and hope that these obstacles will be fixed soon.


My latest large print in process…

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Step Away from the Job Listings…or Coping with the Ups and Downs of Art Making

How long does it take you to make a print? This is a popular question, and one that really defies a quick answer. Some artists glibly say that it has taken all of their years of being an artist to complete a work. But I don’t think this is what the viewer is really asking. While I could relate the time that each actual step takes, I think it might be more interesting to think about the emotional process of creating art.

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Blessings of a do-over

When I describe my printing process to non-printmakers, I often stress that because I am using only one block, if I make a mistake or I don’t like something, I can’t go back. In truth, there are many times when I don’t like something, but I just continue and see if another color layer can make it look different.

I’m working on a new print that has clouds. I had originally wanted to carve the clouds in a sort of engraving style, where you could see my carving marks. Kind of like Gustave Baumann’s Malapi. Sadly I didn’t achieve this, as my clouds looked more like a dust-up of cute cottontails. But I couldn’t go back, so I began to carve the block for the next layer…and I carved away the wrong area.

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You can’t always get what you want

Dry midwestern lake bed. Would you put this on your wall?

Every artist blog needs an image. So when a print you have poured yourself into for weeks does not turn out, it is difficult to know what to do. It is heartbreaking, and a bit embarrassing as well.

During the summer, a nearby lake was drained to repair a leak in the dam. A severe drought helped the process, and by August you could walk on the lake bed and take pictures of these interesting patterns.

I really wanted to use this pattern, but as dry earth, it only conveys lack, desperation and death. Not really the type of image I work with. So I tried to turn it on its head and imagine evaporation, perhaps with some tasty Mediterranean sea salt as a by-product.

The print that shall not be named (detail).

To try to get the idea of crystallization, I turned to etching for some interesting textures. I have now remembered why I prefer the dryness of relief printmaking. In this detail, you can see some of the areas that were etched. I actually etched the block three times, and found it to be a very random process. The changeable autumn weather played havoc with the experiment as well. Sometimes the etch dried quickly, and other times it stayed hydrated and ran off the block — and under the tape I had applied to protect the MDF (medium density fiberboard) block.

Pulling out all the stops in the studio.

As I was cleaning off the block the last time, the MDF was beginning to expand and decompose. I knew this was the last time I could print with this block, and there were still many problems to be solved. So I pulled out all the stops — a frisket for some details, and two different gradations. I gently eased the block back and forth from press to table, but in the end there were perspective problems that had been there from the beginning, and couldn’t be solved with another layer of color.

I thought long and hard about whether to put the whole print on the blog, and decided against it. Once it is here, it has a life of its own. At my house, it glares at me as it dries in the studio. We need some time apart, this print and I.

Time to head to Starbucks for a ridiculously expense coffee, sketchbook in hand, to try to regain my artist inspiration. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you can stuff it in a bottom drawer.